He Bought a 1953 Trailer on Impulse. But What to Do With It?


Lyndon Cormack loves his waterfront house in North Vancouver, Canada, which sits at the bottom of an old forestry road beneath towering cedar and Douglas fir trees.

“It feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere,” he said of the home he shares with his girlfriend, Tori Quarles, 34, and two teenage daughters, “even though it’s only 25 minutes from downtown Vancouver.”

But after living there for a decade, a couple of things bothered him.

“It lacked a cool spot for guests,” said Mr. Cormack, 47, a founder of the backpack and luggage manufacturer Herschel Supply Company. “And I always wanted a home office that would allow me to escape my actual house.”

Over the years, he had discussed ideas for additions with Mark Burkart, an architect who owns a firm called Little Giant and had worked on a cabin that Mr. Cormack owns in nearby Whistler, but nothing really gelled.

Then, while on vacation in the summer of 2022, he found himself browsing Bring a Trailer, an online auction site for classic cars, and saw a listing for something irresistible: an aluminum-clad, 31-foot Spartan Spartanette travel trailer from 1953. Before even considering what he would do with it, Mr. Cormack placed a bid for $70,000 — the winning bid, it turned out — and bought the trailer from a seller in South Carolina.

“I just got the call one day: ‘Hey, I bought a 1950s Spartan trailer,’” said Mr. Burkart, who described Mr. Cormack as a creative collaborator who is full of ideas. “He was like, ‘We’re going to use that for the guesthouse, so let’s start designing.’”

After arranging to have the trailer towed to Bellingham, Wash., where Mr. Cormack picked it up, they found a permanent place for it behind the house. Working together, they came up with the concept of a backyard that would resemble an upscale personal campground, with cedar staircases and decks to link the trailer to a new stand-alone studio building and a central firepit that helps tie the spaces together.

Mr. Burkart designed a sort of carport in the forest, putting a roof over the trailer for long-term protection. Inside the Spartanette, he and Mr. Cormack planned a renovation that would maintain the original character but allow for some upgrades. They kept the curved wood paneling and beefy white Frigidaire refrigerator, adding a streamlined kitchen with pink cabinets, Norwegian Rose marble and a mirrored wall.

“You get a camping vibe and experience,” Mr. Burkart said. “But then finishes like the pink marble are unexpected, and it feels a little like a hotel lounge.”

After removing an old banquette, they added a built-in sofa for a comfortable hangout space, keeping the single bedroom in the back. They made the tiny bathroom a little more spacious by removing the shower and turning the space into a powder room. The shower was moved outdoors, where they “put it in the trees,” Mr. Burkart said, lining the walls in Montana Brown granite.

For Mr. Cormack’s studio, Mr. Burkart designed a 400-square-foot structure that appears to hover above the forest floor. The space is wrapped in cedar, inside and out, and most of it is occupied by a 13-foot desk that gives Mr. Cormack plenty of work space in front of windows with views of the water and mountains. There is also a small sitting area with a wood-burning fireplace.

“This is a place to think, sit beside the fire and dream big dreams,” Mr. Cormack said.

To furnish the studio, they mixed vintage pieces, including a pair of 1970s Maralunga armchairs by Vico Magistretti that sit by the fireplace, with new ones, like sculptural marble side tables from Oeuffice, along with art by Ian Wallace and Adja Yunkers. On a bookshelf, Mr. Cormack displays curiosities found just outside: An antler and a bird’s nest share space with accessories he has collected from around the world, including ceramics and vintage Leica cameras he bought in Japan.

The project, which was completed in November, took the builder, Struction Projects, about eight months to complete, at a cost of roughly 550,000 Canadian dollars ($400,000). And Mr. Cormack has found that his backyard campground is working exactly as he hoped: The studio provides a place for quiet contemplation, friends have come to stay in the trailer, and even the decks serve a purpose.

“I’m a bit of a wanderer when I’m talking on the phone,” he said. “So I’m able to walk around and sit on the chairs out there.”

The Spartanette’s days of wandering North America, however, are over. “This is its final resting place,” Mr. Cormack said. “It’s going to have lots of adventures here, but it’s never going on another trip.”


Living Small is a biweekly column exploring what it takes to lead a simpler, more sustainable or more compact life.

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